Six Vie for School Board Seats
Six candidates are running for three at-large seats in the nonpartisan Moore County Board of Education.
Seats held by incumbents Blanchie Carter, Dale Frye and Jennifer Gar-ner are up for grabs. Frye is the only incumbent running. Carter and Gar-ner decided not to seek re-election.
Besides Frye, the at-large candidates are Bobby Allen, Sue Black, Judy Borden, James Koch and Pamela Thompson.
Seven candidates filed for the at-large seats this year. In the May primary, one candidate, Angela Headen Davis, was eliminated from the field.
Charles Lambert, current board chairman, is running unopposed for the District 3 seat.
Four seats on the eight-member board are up for election every two years. Members serve four-year terms.
The following are brief profiles on the six candidates for the at-large seats, along with some of their views on issues they feel are important.
Allen, a sociology professor at Sandhills Community College, wants to use his academic background to increase community involvement and improve academic performance of the schools.
The blame for low-performing students lies not with administrators or faculty, he said, but with the community.
"What are they doing personally?" he said. "All it takes is an hour of my time and an hour of your time."
Allen is also a retired U.S. Army sergeant major who served in Vietnam. He has taught at Sandhills for the past 10 years. He also volunteers with an after-school tutoring program two times a week.
"I've seen firsthand what community involvement can do," he said.
He said he would look at sociological factors such as demographics and the price of gas to determine where and how new schools should be built.
"The economy is going to force us to go back to the community-based school," he said.
Allen cited overcrowding and de-personalization as problems with the current schools. He said some schools, such as Pinecrest, have gotten so big that they are "out of control."
Allen said the state of football programs in Moore County is something he is concerned about, but he said he is not sure how the board can play a role in producing winning teams. The board should have some input in the situation, he said, because football is such a major part of community culture.
"I don't really see a big role for the board to play in that, personally, because we don't hire (coaches)," he said. "That's going to mean you're going to have to hire somebody to coach."
If elected, Allen said he would work to promote more faith-based after-school tutoring initiatives, involving volunteers from the community instead of hired tutors. He said too many students in Moore County are struggling with reading.
"We taxpayers can't afford for 15 to 20 percent of our population to be second-class citizens," he said.
Allen underscored his independent voting record as a board qualification.
"I'm not a Democrat and I'm not a Republican," he said. "The school board is supposed to be nonpartisan. (Voters should) look at the candidates and decide which one would best serve the county."
And he said he has no fear about bringing up ideas that may challenge the status quo. He said he is here "to raise hell about just accepting the system as it is."
Black is a 15-year veteran of the Moore County Board of Education. She served several terms between 1984 and 2000. She now works as a rehabilitation therapist. She said she is not afraid to make changes if she thinks they are in the best interest of students.
"If I'm going to be in public service," she said, "then I'm going to let the public know what's best for the kids."
Black thinks the board's facilities plan reaches too far into the future. Things change too much, she said, for the board's 12-year, $144 million scheme to be effective. She also said such a long-range plan might not have teeth if future board composition changes substantially.
"I don't believe that any school board can realistically plan out longer than five to six years," she said.
Black supports taxation authority for the school board. Because the board is comprised of members elected by the people, she said, there is no reason why they aren't just as capable as county commissioners to levy taxes.
"To insinuate school board members are not capable of making that decision is a bad argument," she said.
Obviously, Black said, she wouldn't vote to tax people into oblivion.
"I would be responsible," she said. "I would be accountable."
Black said she is concerned about overcrowding but doesn't think residents will want to pay for a new high school.
"People love small schools," she said. "They just don't love to pay for them."
She acknowledged that schools in the county have problems -- she feels student drug use is a huge issue -- but said students have plenty of opportunities to succeed.
"The truth of the matter is, you can have a 4,000-student school and run it just as efficiently," she said. "Learning will happen."
Black dealt with the public concern -- even outrage -- about the Pinecrest football team when she served on the board.
"It's been my perception that athletics has not always held a high spot in Moore County," she said.
Black cited a lack of continuity of leadership at Pinecrest as part of the problem.
"Go hire a top-notch coach," she said. "We could get parents excited enough to get new books for the library."
Black said most board members she has worked with in the past have kept open minds.
"I don't foresee myself as going in and telling the board what to do," she said. "I'm good at bringing people together."
Borden, a homemaker with two children enrolled in public schools, underscored the need for new school buildings now. Borden sees funding and facilities are priorities facing the board, she said.
"When you only have a certain pot of money," she said, "you've got to divide it fairly."
Borden said Superintendent Susan Purser has overcome the negativity of her predecessor, former Superinten-dent Pat Russo, but she thinks Purser has waited too long to start building new school facilities. Borden called Purser "gun-shy" and said new schools need to be built now.
"As we wait (to build), prices are going up," she said.
Borden believes current schools don't have enough room to accommodate students and teachers. She specifically cited overcrowding at Southern Pines Elementary.
"The principal is going to be up on the roof," she said, joking.
Borden, who earned a master's degree in public administration with a concentration in national security, said a big concern for her is the continued enrollment growth of existing schools.
"My biggest fear is Columbine," she said.
She said one of her solutions would be to redraw school attendance lines.
"We've got to redistrict," she said.
She supports a combination of bond money and public/private partnerships to fund school construction.
"We need more money than what we'd get from a bond," she said.
She said she wants some things to stay at status-quo for the district.
"I don't see the need for the school board to have taxing authority," she said.
Borden also weighed in about the state of high school football in the county. Giving more money to struggling teams such as Pinecrest won't help the problem, she said. It will take sustained community effort. She thinks establishing more football feeder programs is a better answer.
"Give the opportunity (to play football), and then allow students and their families to decide," she said. "Would money solve the problem? I don't think so."
Borden, who is a native of Pennsylvania, said the fact that she didn't attend school in Moore County school will work to her advantage. She said that allows her to be unbiased.
"I'm passionate about issues, but I don't take issues personally," Borden said. "They're issues, not personality issues."
Frye, the only incumbent running for an at-large seat, said he thinks Moore County students should have quality facilities, top-notch instructors, and a varied and challenging curriculum.
Because he is retired, Frye said, he has more time to devote to serving the school system. Frye is a former instructor with the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles School Bus and Traffic Safety section.
Frye helped create the schools facilities plan and said it can help solve the overcrowding problem facing schools. He said building a new high school building is "inevitable."
"People were upset because we didn't go ahead and get a (new) high school," he said.
He said he supports a fiscally conservative approach to funding facilities improvements. He suggested a public/private partnership as an option -- a private developer could build a school and lease it back to the county.
"There's nothing like good old capitalism to come up with an answer," he said.
Frye supports a restructuring of high schools so they provide a highly-qualified workforce for local businesses. He said he would like to see an expansion of curricula that include vocational education training and computer technology. He said he would also like to see courses that help ease student transition to colleges grow in number.
Decreasing the dropout rate and closing student achievement gaps should be priorities for the board, he said.
Frye said he thinks Purser has done well in listening to the public concern about the state of football programs in the county.
"She is approaching the problem and the crisis that she did not bring in," he said.
Frye said he fully supports Purser.
"She has restored a lot of credibility," he said. "She does her research."
Frye said he wants to see the football programs succeed. The sport could bring in revenue for schools, he said, and strong leadership will be the key to revitalizing it.
"We need a football czar," he said, "someone who can come in and resurrect the whole football program in this county."
Koch said his experience in construction will serve the school board well as it embarks on its $144 million facilities improvement plan. Koch is a senior project manager with IVEY mechanical contracting. The facilities plan is one of the main reason he's running for the board.
"If you're going to spend $200 million in the next 10 years on construction," he said, "you need someone with some kind of experience on the board."
He gave the current board a grade of a "D-minus" on its management of the construction so far. He said he would do several things differently if he were elected: make sure school designs incorporate security features, better manage the contractors, timetables, and cost overruns, and look at energy-efficient heating and air conditioning.
He said he also supports an unorthodox means of funding the facilities plan -- a visitor tax. Such a tax would have to be approved by the state, Koch said, and would levy a tax on tourists who come to Moore County.
"What would have happened if we had had a visitor tax at the U.S. Open?" Koch said. "That's not going to stop any golfer from coming to play Pinehurst No. 2."
Koch approves of the job Purser has done since replacing former superintendent Pat Russo.
"From three years ago," he said, "it's a different school system."
As for the football situation in Moore County, Koch said it is something the school board can and should address. He thinks the idea of a county athletic director is a good one, but he says the board should consider how that position would be funded.
He said football supporters should go to both the Board of Education and the county commissioners to address the issue in a "two-pronged approach." The school board, Koch said, should also think in terms of what they can fund.
"You've got to look at every issue," he said, "and say, 'Can we work within our funding or do we need to go to the county commissioners?'"
Koch, who has two sons enrolled in Moore County schools, said he is "his own man" when it comes to making decisions.
"I'm here to help out the people of Moore County," he said, "not a political party or faction."
A lifelong Robbins resident, Thompson said her past involvement with school advisory councils and knowledge of the county puts her in good stead for the job. Thompson, who works as a director of health information management at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital, said she will serve the interests of all Moore County students and teachers.
"I'm not just for Robbins teachers and students," she said. "I'm for all of the county."
Each part of the county, Thompson said, has different needs.
"(In the southern part), it's a facility need," she said. "Up (in the northern part), it's a cultural need. Do these schools have the resources they need to serve the children?"
She said resources should be based on student numbers -- the more students, the bigger share.
"You have to do it based on the population," she said. "That is a concern."
Those involved in schools in the northern part of the county, Thompson said, sometimes feel the county's schools are treated unequally. For example, North Moore doesn't have an International Baccalaureate program but Pinecrest does.
Thompson said schools have to get past this perception of inequality.
"We have to get to a point to where the trust is there," she said, "so they can understand why (schools offer different programs)."
Thompson said she can appreciate the call for a countywide athletic director -- some have said that would remedy some of the county's football woes -- but she thinks the subject needs more research and dialogue.
"With that level of position," she said, "it means high dollars."
Thompson commended the work Purser has done so far in bridging the communication gap between educators and administrators.
"She's gotten schools on the same page," Thompson said.
Purser needs to continue her progress, Thompson said, to make sure teachers feel they can approach their administration.
"We need to get teachers empowered (so they feel) they have a say," Thompson said.
Thompson advocates a meditative approach to school building construction. She said board members must look at things like projected growth to ensure the buildings will serve the students.
"With all growth, we need to make sure we've got the right campus structure," she said.
Katherine Evans is an intern from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She can be reached at 693-2480 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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